Report: US wheat production much higher than expected

AP-Wheat Harvest
In this June 21, 2015 file photo, wheat stands ready for harvest in a field near Anthony, Kan. A new government report Tuesday, July 12, 2016, is forecasting a much bigger U.S. winter wheat crop than had been expected just a month ago. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Growers are harvesting a bountiful winter wheat crop across the nation and in Kansas — added bushels that will help farms’ bottom line but dampen hopes for a quick turnaround in the dismal crop prices.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Tuesday that it now expects the nation’s wheat production to come in at 1.63 billion bushels. The government’s forecast for the nation is up 8 percent from their estimate just last month, and up 19 percent from last year’s crop.

The agency’s estimate comes amid a record-yield forecast averaging 53.9 bushels an acre, meaning growers are bringing a bigger crop than a year ago despite harvesting fewer acres.

But prices are unlikely to follow, wheat industry advocates say. Cash prices on Tuesday were hovering around $3 a bushel in Kansas, marking a steep plunge from their peak of $7.77 during the 2012 drought.

“I think we are still at that break-even point with a lot of farmers — even if you get 70 or 80 bushels an acre — because the cash price they are receiving is just horrible,” said Aaron Harries, marketing director for the industry group Kansas Wheat.

Tom Giessel cut what he called an excellent crop off the 2,000 acres of winter wheat he planted near the western Kansas town of Larned. In mid-June he sold much of his crop at a price of $4.16 a bushel — even though it wasn’t yet cut — because he says he “knew what was coming.” By the time his harvest was over two weeks later, wheat was selling for under $3.

“So it lost 25 percent of its value in two weeks, or a little over,” he said. “You know, if the stock market lost 25 percent of its value in two weeks, there would be people jumping off buildings.”

NASS forecast the Kansas crop at 453.6 million bushels with average yields of 56 bushels per acre from 8.1 million acres. If realized, this would be a record yield. The nation’s biggest winter wheat producer has harvested more than 91 percent of its crop.

“With a state (yield) average like this, at least we are a little bit comfortable saying a lot of guys will break even … It is really reflective of the market situation right now,” Harries said.

“A lot of people are broke before they know it, and I just know in my own case that my … income is getting shorter all the time,” Giessel said. “It is kind of hand to mouth, where it used to be stretched out.”

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